UPDATE: Australia’s new government has ratified Kyoto. Wow. That was fast.

Though we’ve mentioned them a couple of times in our news stream, I’m not sure I’ve fully appreciated just how seismic recent political changes in Australia have been. Not only was the Liberal (pro-business right) party defeated but according to John Quiggen it’s completely falling apart, with most of its prominent conservative power brokers quitting and their successors repudiating the far-right Howard line. The result is total realigment:

After a thoroughly uninspiring election campaign, characterised by lots of me-too promises and fence-sitting, we have ended up with a political scene that is utterly transformed, with the previously dominant hardline right not merely out of government but a marginalised minority within the opposition. It remains to be seen whether Labor can make anything of this. No one is expecting much in the short term, but suddenly there seems to be room to move, and the prospect of several terms in office in which to do it.

Gristmill reader Craig Allen left a more detailed and optimistic rundown in comments yesterday. Here’s an excerpt:

You may be aware that Australia recently had an election and that the government of John Howard (a good mate and supporter of George Bush) has been crushed by the left leaning Labor Party, led by Kevin Rudd (a former diplomat and fluent speaker of Mandarin) with the support of the Australian Greens.

Howard himself lost his seat to a very switched on former journalist from the Australian Broadcasting Commission – Maxine McKew.

It is widely recognized that the backward stance of Howard with respect to climate change played a significant role in the change of government.

The new Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, is the first woman ever to hold that role.

As of yesterday we now have two dedicated, intelligent, enlightened ministers who are committed to helping the country get to grips with the environment, water and climate change, and who are eager to seek and accept the best advice available from the scientific community, economists and business leaders. Mr Rudd declared yesterday that his minister for The Environment, Heritage and the Arts is Mr Peter Garrett – the former head of the Australian Conservation Foundation (equivalent to the Sierra club in the US and the RSPB in Britain). And in addition there will be a dedicated Minister for Climate Change and Water – Ms Penny Wong, a Malaysian-Chinese immigrant. Ms Wong will lead the way in international negotiations on climate change, Mr Garrett will lead the way in developing and implementing policy within Australia.

The Labor party already held power in every state and territory in the country. The state and territory governments have been battling the national government for years to get meaningful greenhouse policies in place. Now the brakes are off. To find the highest ranking right-wing politician in Australia you now have to look to the Mayor of Brisbane!

It’s always easy to be cynical (‘no matter what, you always get a politician’). But this new crop includes some of the most committed, intelligent, environmentally savvy, socially progressive people in the country.

It’s like some kind of miracle!

Ever since I was hired at Grist, I’ve been writing that every developed nation supports the Kyoto Protocol “except the U.S. and Australia.” Guess the U.S. really is all alone now. I feel so proud.